Strategic focus often involves saying no to intriguing project requests.
One of the shortest words you can say is also the most important. Saying no is about choice. Shifting your mindset from “I have to” to “I choose to” requires saying no to tasks and activities that are off track.
There are many reasons why saying no is hard. You might not want to miss an opportunity. You might feel like you’re not being a team player. It may feel like you’re not getting to work on something fun and interesting. To achieve focus though, saying no is required. It can be hard to say no to someone’s idea or a group’s request of your team. When you say no, it feels like you’re not helping somebody out.
Try saying, “yes if,” instead. Essentially, what you’re doing is putting conditions around that yes. Those conditions can include things like, “You have to give me budget, you have to give me time, or you have to give me people to get this idea done.”
I had a boss who was full of ideas. He was always coming to me with new project requests. A lot of them were off strategy. They were distractions. I used to say no to all of them because to me it was clear that they weren’t strategic. After a few months, I started getting some negative feedback from him. He said, “All you do is say no, Mike. Nothing is ever positive with you.”
At that point, I shifted to the behavior of saying, “Yes if.” Whenever he came to me with a new project, I said, “That’s a really great idea. I’m happy to do it if you give me this much budget or this much time or if you give me that team member from that team to come work on the project.” A lot of times he would say, “Well no, I’m not giving you that budget or time or people.” And I said, “Well, then I can’t pursue the idea.”
Essentially, I was making him say no to the idea because it was clear that the idea wasn’t big enough or on-strategy enough to prioritize it properly. By getting the requester to focus, I was being positive and contributing to the team but also maintaining focus.
Saying no keeps your team members focused on their core responsibilities. When you do say no, you might have to back them up and say no for them. The point is, that short little word is the key to keeping your team focused on its strategic priorities.
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